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Report: Forests managed by tribes need $100 million increase in federal funds

A wide-angled view of green forestlands managed by the Acoma Pueblo in northwest New Mexico.
Courtesy Of Intertribal Timber Council
Tribal forests cover more than 19 million across the U.S., such as these forestlands managed by the Acoma Pueblo in northwest New Mexico.

A new report says forests managed by tribal communities are extremely underfunded. And that’s affecting lands that tribes in the Mountain West and beyond rely on for economic, social and cultural resources.

The report by the Indian Forest Management Assessment Team calls on the federal government to increase funding to tribes by nearly $100 million each year.

That’s how much money it would take to match the per-acre funds that agencies like the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management receive to manage forests, said Cody Desautel, president of the Intertribal Timber Council. The group organized the study.

Desautel, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation in Washington State, said wildfires have burned almost 700,000 acres of their forestlands since 2015. That includes “places that we likely would have had treated ahead of time to reduce that post-fire severity if we had more funding and staffing.”

Tribes need more money and workers to complete projects like prescribed burns and thinning, said Desautel. He emphasized that it’s needed now, as climate change fuels more frequent and severe wildfires.

“We'd like to do considerably more prescribed fire to combat some of the post-fire impacts we've seen and protect our communities,” he added.

In 2019, tribal forests covered more than 19 million acres in the U.S. That includes just over 10 million acres of commercial forests and woodlands.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureaud, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.